The most prevalent question, asked by numerous people was: "Where do you get your supplies?"
Unfortunately, I have yet to find a store locally that sells bento items so I've had to do my shopping online, buying most of my bento items though Ichiban Kan. They are by far the least expensive place to buy lunch boxes, lunch box belts, lunch bags, cute little food picks, egg molds, food dividers, food cups, sauce bottles, mayo cups, rice molds and seaweed punches. All the items are $1.00 - $1.50 each but the base shipping charge is high so get everything you want in one order to make the shipping charge worth the cost. I've also purchased a couple of items off ebay but those are quite a bit more expensive so I'd suggest waiting until you see if you like making bentos before investing lots of money.
Almost all of my silicon cups are from my cabinets from when I used to do a lot of baking. They are all Wilton brand and work great. I used to pick those up at JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels or Hobby Lobby always using the 40% off Sunday paper coupon, making them really quite inexpensive. For the cut-out foods I use cookie and canape cutters that I dug out from the dark recesses of my cabinets. The egg molds also make good cutters, if you look at the bottom of each you'll see that you can use them as cutters for a slice of bread or a couple deli slices of meat. Then if you take say the top piece of sandwich bread and press it into the egg mold, you get a really good impression for the top of each sandwich. Since I started making bentos, I've tried looking at things around the house in different ways and I've been surprised how many things can be used to make cute bentos, even a juice glass can be used to to cut an everyday sandwich into a fun round sandwich.
Ozimum asked: "What is Bento, is it the box or the food?"
It's my understanding that bento means a packed meal, usually lunch. If I have this wrong, someone please let me know.
Catherine asked: "Is there a special marker that you've purchased to draw on the food?"
In the pictures below, I drew the faces on the egg mice and the moggie & doggie using Wilton Foodwriters. The faces on both the octopus and the smiley eggs were made with nori. I have some nori/paper punches that I use and then I just place the punched out pieces on the food which is slightly damp and it stays on. All you scrap book people probably have many punches that could be used to make all sorts of fun bentos.
Caroline and Rebecca asked: "So how do you make the really cute carrot flowers?"
I use this vegetable slicer to get the carrots to a good and even thickness, then I have this Hello Kitty set which includes a cutter that makes the little flowers. All the "scraps" remaining after cutting out the flowers I chop up and add to whatever I'm making the next day so there isn't a lot of waste.
Maisie loves eggs and small food especially, so quail eggs are a great thing. I've purchased at the local Asian market both fresh and canned quail eggs and she likes them the same so I always keep a few cans in the house. She can down 6 eggs in one sitting and she'll eat them warm or cold. If you boil the canned ones (which are already cooked and peeled in water), the yolk gets nice and creamy, they're really nice. They taste like chicken eggs but just a wee bit more delicate in flavor.
Catherine also asked: "Just curious, in one of your pics the yolk of the eggs was in different shapes. Are those created when you take warm boiled eggs and put them into the egg shapers?"
Making egg yolks different shapes is achieved by using a gadget where you have to separate the white from the yolk, then you have to put the whites into special forms where you insert a tube that is the shape that you want the yolk. You cook the white then remove the tube shape and put the raw yolk in the void, cover and cook again. It's very easy but it takes about 20-25 minutes of boiling time to make the eggs. The end result is sweet though!! Also, I've made the egg white part and then stuffed the shaped void with deviled egg salad, then sliced to make fun appetizers. 3lilangels said "Wow, the eggs are beautiful. Saw the egg maker on ebay and thought that was too intricate and time consuming to make. Really salute your patience." I just did a search on ebay and couldn't find this item but it could come up for sale again if anyone is interested.
The Hello Kitty imprints on the carrots were made using the Hello Kitty Vegetable Cutter Set which I've also used to make small sandwiches.
Amy asked: "How long is the preparation? It must be a time consuming labor of love :-)"
It really isn't as time consuming as you would think. I now have all my boxes, cutters and supplies well organized so that makes choosing what I want to use quite easy. As I'm making dinner I prepare Maisie's bento and many times her bento is leftovers. Making the imprints on the veggies, cutting out shaped sandwiches or punching nori takes just a few moments but organization is the key. When making dinner, I make an extra serving as Eammon's bento is always a repeat of the previous nights dinner. Then it's just arranging it in the box and I'm done. Many bento makers choose to prepare their bentos in the morning as it's fresher but I'm too lazy to do it that way and since Maisie and Eammon have never had their bento made fresh in the morning, they don't know any better so they're just going to have to get what they get!
Maryellen asked: "Can you recommend a Bento book?"
Unfortunately I've never read a bento book or even seen one in person. I did see mentioned on some blog (sorry, don't remember which) a book called 'Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes' and the person liked the book. I look at the cover picture and it scares me as it looks way, w.a.y. beyond anything that I do or ever plan to do but it might make an interesting coffee table book! There are a lot of bento blogs out there and scrolling though them can give you plenty of ideas on how to pack bento for your family.
Lisa asked: "What is inari??"
Inari is vinegared rice in a bag of fried and seasoned tofu. I buy already prepared seasoned tofu at my local Asian market, it can be found vacuum sealed in both the frozen and refrigerated sections. All three of us love the tofu so I use it all the time making up my own variations from filling the pouch with egg or chicken salad to rice, fish (raw or cooked) and veggies. Sometimes I serve the pouch closed and flat with very little filling the way Maisie likes it and other times it is heavily stuffed, open on the top, the bottom of the bag filled with rice and the open top big and pretty with fish, chicken, egg and/or veggies exposed.
Adrienne in TX (LID 4-20-07) asked: "Please include some how to's as well. I made some cute carrot cut outs today, thanks to your carrot flowers."
Adrienne I'm glad that I've inspired you. I've included some how-to tips in this post and if there are any other tips you want, please leave a comment or email. Most of the time I'm lucky to get a picture and description up but would be happy to give more information anytime someone asks.
Numerous people have asked: Do I heat Maisie's lunch and/or how do I keep it hot or cold?
I'm very lucky in that Maisie will eat everything either room temperature or cold. Though Maisie's bento bag is insulated, I really don't use it to keep things hot or cold. Sometimes I toss in an ice pack but usually her food is at room temperature.
Various people have asked: "How do you make the pretty apple slices and what do you do to keep the apples from going brown?"
I peel and slice my apples to about the thickness of my little finger. I then use a vegetable cutter/stamp to shape and press the design into the slices. The fun thing about making the apple shapes is that Maisie usually helps me and she loves to immediately snack on all the pieces that we cut off. I have soaked the slices in a little water with lemon but I don't do this anymore as it really didn't make much of a difference. I've found that by packing the apple in a bento box with a tight seal keeps the air out and the apples stay pretty fresh looking and tasting all day.
Jenna asked: "How many boxes do you have? They are so cute."
Thank you Jenna. I probably have twenty bento boxes for Maisie and maybe 8 or 10 others that I use for Eammon and myself. When I go to pack Maisie's bento I have an idea of which shape box I'll need based on what's being packed but I've noticed that I tend to get lazy in choosing the box as I just reach in and grab the shape I want, which is usually on top so many of the boxes lay unused on the bottom of the pile.
Mendy asked: "Please tell me how to use the egg bear/ bunny molds."
For the egg molds, you need to use extra large eggs. Hard boil the eggs. Then while they are still hot, peel the shell and place the egg in the mold an close. Drop the filled mold into a bowl filled with ice water. I let the eggs sit in the ice water for about 20 minutes. Then remove the eggs from the mold and they should be fun shapes. I sometimes take some of my cake decorating colors and paint the ears, nose and mouth. I know that other people take the finished eggs and once they are removed from the mold, then soak them in a bath of food coloring and water to tint the egg a color. It's easy and fun and Maisie loves making them with me.
A few people have asked: "What happens to the leftovers or scraps when you make all the cut-out shapes for Maisie's bento?"
Cut-out lunch meat leftovers always find their way into Eammon's sandwiches. Maisie loves cheese and since she snacks on it all.the.time, she either eats the cut-away as we're packing her bento or later that day. When I cut out veggies I sometimes put the odd shapes under Eammon's other veggies in his bento or I save the scraps and when I make dinner or soup I just add them to the mix and they disappear. Leftover fruit, either I eat it or Eammon gets some weird shaped pieces that he snacks on at work. Leftover bread usually goes to the ducks that flock to our back yard. Of course if there's something sweet and sugary, Maisie devours that as we're packing her bento. In the end, there really isn't any waste.
I've been asked by numerous people: What are fairy sprinkles, where do you get them, do you worry about giving Maisie so much sugar?
Fairy sprinkles are colored decorating sugars that I buy either at the grocery or a craft store (love those 40% off coupons for Michaels & JoAnn Fabrics.) I'm not into giving Maisie lots of sugar but I've found that when I use the sprinkles she's more willing to eat fruit and more of it. I use less than 1/8 teaspoon so a little goes a long way. She loves it and I'm happy that she's eating fruit so I don't worry about the small amount of sugar.